Thursday, October 04, 2012

Carolina Mountains Calling

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Just as the summer heat is pushing record highs, thousands of Floridians flock to the Carolina mountains for a spell. As much as I love my home state, I too find a visit to the cool mountain air, rocky terrain, and lovely waterfalls mighty nice.  This year, Crystal and I spent a few days in the Brevard area, along with our more usual haunts, Asheville and Cullasaja Gorge (thanks to Kathy!).

The Dupont State Forest has become ever more popular since the filming of Hunger Games (only the latest of several films made there). A great place to start.  Pisgah National Forest was also nearby, full of equally gorgeous trails and falls.

A serendipitous call from my photo friend, Mac Stone, led us to realize that we were less than an hour apart.   Mac had recently moved to SC from the Florida Keys.  Even more coincidental, we had just seen a painting of a small intimate waterfall called "Hidden Falls".  I was intrigued and the shop owner happened to know about where it was: "near a boiled peanut stand at a wayside pull out on the way to Greenville, SC".  Crystal and I decided to try to find it the next day.  We would have failed except that the property where this waterfall flowed was being purchased by the land trust that Mac now worked for.  He hadn't been there, but knew about it.  On a rainy Sunday morning, we packed a picnic (weather-hopeful) and headed for our rendezvous.

Crystal loves big-sky vistas, so on the way we stopped at Caesar's Head State Park, one of several SC parks near the NC border.  The rain had diminished to a drizzle as we arrived.  We were treated to a surreal panorama of the Appalachian foothills.

A bit later, we found the peanut stand all right.  And nearby was the waterfall the shop owner had directed us to - similar, but it wasn't the right one.  I made some photos anyway (not pictured here) and just as we were starting upstream on the trail, Mac arrived.  He told us this was called Wildcat Falls, another property owned and managed by his land trust. Upstream, we found this gorgeous huge rock face.

Later, Mac led us to an unmarked trail up the highway a bit... which led to the REAL Hidden Falls.  It was every bit as lovely as I expected.

We had all heard there was another waterfall upstream, but had no idea it was so beautiful...

...and inviting!  Mac later learned this one's called Sweet Thing.  Sweet indeed.
Mac Stone

The banks of the nearby South Saluda River provided our delightful picnic spot.  We were on yet another beautiful property protected by Mac's land trust group.

Over the next couple rainy days, we touristed in Asheville and visited with friends in nearby Mars Hill and Avery Creek.  Here's a view from Jack and Dorothy's front deck.

A cold front pushed in bringing crisp cool air... ahhh, a taste of fall.  Leaves were starting to change, the air had been cleaned by the rain, so we headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sam Knob trail is one of our favorites.  Crystal got her heart's fill of breathtaking vistas.

The last few days we mostly relaxed at Kathy's sweet cabin in the Cullasaja Gorge.Here's a composite of photos of a mushroom growing in the yard.
3 stages of the same mushroom
Crystal and I walked along Brush Creek to the national forest at the top of the road each morning. I spent a few hours exploring the intimacies of Brush Creek. Along the way, I photo-played with flowing water and dancing sunlight.

 Because the Cullasaja river was raging from the big rain, I ventured out at dawn to see the Falls.  This is in the steepest drop in the Cullasaja Gorge, and here, the road narrows to a thin winding line with vertical rock wall on one side and a vertical drop on the other.  There is a begrudging strip of road-shoulder, enough for maybe 3 cars glued to the guardrail, near the top of the waterfall. No real trail down, but crazy people scramble down the rocks, scrub, and poison ivy.  (We are some of those people.)  As I descended, a blast of watery air from the force of the falls engulfed me.  In the past, we have spent many fun days exploring the base of the Falls and the river rocks and pools.  Now I understood how those pools are formed as I stood in awe of the power in this swollen river. I was soaked and unable to get a photo so I climbed back to the top.  Earlier, in the gray light of pre-dawn, I had seen the mist filling the valley along the curvy road.  But how to get to the vantage point? There was a safe spot with a view about 100 yards up the road, but there was NO shoulder between me and my destination.  The guard rail literally hung over the edge of the narrow lane and mostly dropped vertically on the other side of the rail. Stone wall offered no safety on the opposite side of the road.  I could see a piece of the road a quarter mile downhill through the trees and figured that by watching the cars at that point, I could time my dash during lulls in traffic.  Thus, I was able to make it in 3 segments (points where there were small standable ledges over the railing).  Sunlight was just starting to fall on the far peak and valley as I got there.  I shot it in color, but it looks too surreal.  The  black and white more accurately honors the feeling of the scene in that moment.

A couple days later when the river was not quite so high, Crystal and I climbed down again to bask in the glory of this place, and take a dip in the river pools.  Ahhh, Carolina, you are yet another paradise on our planet.